SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The Savannah Police Department chief pushed back against an anonymous letter that accused him of killing morale within the department.
“I do not believe that letter is a fair characterization of the current state of the Savannah Police Department,” Chief Roy Minter said.
The author of the letter, claiming to represent a group of Savannah police officers, accused Chief Minter of promoting people for political reasons and killing morale through moves he's made over the past year. It was sent to members of the media, city council, and posted on social media.
“Based on what I’m seeing and I’m hearing, I do not believe it characterizes the department at large or the department at all,” Minter said. “I don’t understand why anyone would feel that way. I can’t comment on what may or may not be somebody’s motivation for sending an anonymous letter.”
We have not been able to confirm who wrote that letter. The chief encouraged people to read it, but he made it clear he wholly disagreed.
“If people want to talk directly to me, they realize I’ve never put a policy in place prohibiting anybody in this department from having a conversation directly with the chief,” Chief Minter said.
He said numerous officers and supervisors have expressed their disagreement with the letter, too. However, he is admitting they’re struggling hiring and retaining officers, specifically the ones you see patrolling the streets every day.
According to records we got from the city of Savannah, last year, the department had 417 officers who were corporals or below. Right now, they only have 380. The department has funding for 434. The department is also down from 66 sergeants last year to 51 this year. They should have 67. Overall, that accounts for a shortage of 70 officers from sergeants to patrol officers.
"Looking at our application numbers, our application numbers are still strong, but everybody who applies for a position doesn’t necessarily get hired,” Chief Minter said.
There are currently 32 cadets in the training academy. The process to be on the streets alone is about 32 weeks with no delays. Sergeants are the first-line supervisors in the department. The chief said the shortage there is a result of a delay in promoting earlier this year. The department cleared confusion over who qualifies to become a sergeant.
“It’s not that we waited so long until we had these openings,” Chief Minter said. “It was a process issue that we, in conjunction with the request from members of the department, decided to delay.”
Right now, the chief says there are 35 officers going through the promotion process to become sergeants. He hopes to promote 16 in the next month.
The city is also losing officers for disciplinary reasons. In 2015, 16 officers quit or lost their job for disciplinary reasons. That number jumped to 28 in 2016 and then 43 the year after that. It was down to 26 in 2018 and stands at 14 officers in 2019. The chief said cases involving other forms of discipline are up this year.
“I wouldn’t say there’s anything new as far as me coming in as new chief and setting a specific standard. I mean the policies are the policies,” Chief Minter said. “It’s important for people to know that when matters are brought to our attention, that we’re making sure that we’re addressing the matters in a timely manner, and we’re making sure that we address them appropriately.”
The chief said he has made it a priority to handle discipline quickly. He pointed to a new discipline review board and other steps in the Internal Affairs process as progressive changes he’s made to be transparent.
The city is seeing an increase in gun crime this year. The chief said some of the cases involve vigilante justice - where victims go and retaliate - becoming suspects in another crime. Overall, there has been a 30 percent increase in violent crimes like robberies, rape, and shootings. The number of deadly shootings or stabbings is down in 2019, though.